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Donald Trump's lawyers ask for his immediate acquittal, as impeachment trial to begin today

The US President will be at the economic forum in Davos, Switzerland when his trial begins.

Image: ERIN SCOTT

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP’S historic impeachment trial begins in earnest in the Senate today, with Democrats calling for his removal from office and Republicans determined to acquit him – and quickly, if possible.

Four months after the Ukraine scandal exploded and went on to overshadow the end of Trump’s term, and 10 months before Americans go to the polls to decide whether to re-elect him, the 100 members of the Senate will gather today at 1pm (6pm Irish time) with chief justice John Roberts presiding over the trial.

The job of these lawmakers, sworn in last week as jurors, is to decide if Trump abused his office and obstructed Congress as charged in two articles of impeachment approved last month by the House of Representatives.

They state that Trump tried to pressure Ukraine into interfering in the 2020 US election to help him win, and then tried to thwart a congressional probe of his behavior.

It will be only the third time a president has endured an impeachment trial, after Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1999.

Part of the scandal centers on a 25 July telephone call in which Trump pressured Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to announce an investigation of former Vice President Joe Biden, Trump’s potential opponent in the November vote.

Democrats, who control the House of Representatives and led the investigation, accuse Trump of manipulating Ukraine by withholding nearly $400 million in military aid for its war against Russian-backed separatists and a White House meeting for Zelensky until the latter announced a Biden probe.

‘Nothing wrong’

“The president did nothing wrong,” Trump’s lawyers responded in a 110-page brief submitted to the Senate yesterday.

This echoes the repeated assertions of the 73-year-old real estate magnate that the saga is a political witch hunt and a hoax, and that his phone call with the Ukrainian leader was “perfect”.

In the president’s brief, his 12-man legal team contested the very idea of his impeachment.

They called the two articles of impeachment – approved largely along party lines in the Democratic-controlled House – the product of “a rigged process” and “constitutionally deficient on their face” because they involved no violation of established law.

That team, which has recruited high-profile lawyers such as Kenneth Starr, who tried to bring down Clinton over his affair with Monica Lewinsky, said in the brief, “The Senate should reject the Articles of Impeachment and acquit the president immediately.”

The practicalities of impeachment

Trump looks almost certain to be acquitted because of the 53-47 Republican majority in the Senate.

He will be abroad as his trial opens; Trump left late last night for the economic forum in Davos, Switzerland.

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The first order of business today will be to set the rules, such as how long they will hear the arguments of the House managers, or prosecutors; how long they will hear the defence; the time allotted for questions, submitted by the senators but read by Roberts; and whether they will call witnesses or seek other evidence.

How long the trial will last is up in the air: the White House has said it expects the trial to be over in two weeks. Clinton’s trial lasted five weeks.

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AFP

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